Over the past couple of years such as No Man’s Sky, Elite Dangerous and Stellaris all bring deep space exploration to the forefront of PC gaming. Daedalic Entertainment isn’t what I would call an indie developer, nor would I class them as AAA, they are on a level in between. However they have recently just released their own game that aims to focus on the deep space exploration theme, but how does it compare to the rest in this growing genre of game?
Daedalic’s games are usually part of the adventure point and click genre, so you’d be correct in thinking that The Long Journey Home will have a highly narrative-driven experience. The main story is based around a ship and a crew of 7 crew members. They have been tasked with exploring Alpha Centauri, the closest star system to our own solar system. The ship, Daedalus-7 is equipped with prototype equipment, so in an easy to spot plot, the ship malfunctions, and both the crew and ship are declared lost in space after mission control loses contact with them. Whilst the crew and the ship appear to be in one piece, they actually landed thousands of parsecs away from where they needed to be. In case you were wondering, 1 parsec equals about 19 trillion miles. These guys managed to miss their landing zone by 37847 parsecs. Go figure that one out!
The story was probably the game’s most interested aspect, being a fan of Star Wars and Star Trek, the theme appealed to me greatly. Whilst you don’t exactly get to develop a hugely deep relationship with any of the characters, there are still some moments of interesting dialog to be had.
I was a little disappointed that the main story is in fact quite short. Where the length of the plot will expand from is the small side plots you get from interacting with alien races. Simply due to the fact that the whole game is based on RNG and procedurally generated worlds, you may not always get many aliens to interact with, thus cutting out a good portion of the game’s additional plot and gameplay.
Powered by the Unreal Engine 4, The Long Journey Home presents plenty of opportunities for you to fill up your hard drive with some gorgeous screenshots. Every planet is procedurally generated, allowing you to get a different experience each time. The game’s take on simulating alien worlds and space has allowed for some wonderfully crafted environments.
The character design takes on a slightly different form than the rest of the game though. Making use of large pixelated style gives the characters a washed out look, but it did leave enough room for some high resolution textures to be used too.
I was very disappointed to see a lackluster options menu though. Unable to natively change your resolution from the in game menu, terrible graphic customization options and lack of a windows mode too.
The Long Journey Home a fine soundtrack, and most of the sound effects are ok too. However the lack of voice acting really shows as a prominent problem. You can tell by the dialog between the crew members that the developers were hoping you to garner some sort of emotion for them, but I find it very difficult to grow any feelings towards something if I am having to read blocks of texts. The characters in the game have some interesting personalities, and the use of some cheesy or quirky voice acting would have added much needed character to this game in spoken dialog
The gameplay revolves around getting your spaceship into orbit and landing it on a planet in order to explore it for resources. As you explore planets you will encounter aliens, and the game has a heavy emphasis on interacting with them, and building a sort of diplomatic relationship with them. Aliens may be hostile or friendly when you first encounter them, but depending how you act will greatly determine whether your journey back home is a delightfully long easy trip, or one filled with aggressive aliens bearing down your necks constantly.
The game isn’t all about space exploration though, I was surprised to find that there is in fact a combat element too. Who doesn’t love space combat eh?! Well somehow The Long Journey Home’s space combat was too simplistic to be as enjoyable as I’d hoped. Your ship and foes ship has shields, and they recharge over time. Your ship also has cannons, and the combat essentially boils down to who can get the first shot of quickest, and who can land the most hits in moving combat. With the lack of any other special powers, or secondary weapons, the combat felt terribly dull and mono that I actively avoided it if possible. You can purchase upgrades for your ship which will add increased damage and change the shape of your laser’s spread, but ultimately I was disappointed with the combat system used here.
A single run to completion can last around seven to ten hours, depending on how many random events you encounter, and how many planets you explore. You will come across personal dilemmas whether it is worth exploring a potentially dangerous planet for much needed resources, or just skipping on by. The resources you find can range between metals that are used to repair your ship, gas to refuel your ship, and exotic matter to recharge your ships jump drive. You can also sell any spare resources to bring in some extra moola, which you can then use on upgrades and medicines for your crew. I found the resource management to be a pretty enjoyable aspect of the Long Journey Home.
The process in which you collect resources is quite simple as a premise. Land your ship and just drill for gold! However as we’ll touch on later, it’s not always so easy. Some planets have different levels of gravity which requires you to think logically on the fly, and while this did present an interesting gameplay mechanic, it wasn’t always enjoyable when a task which really shouldn’t be difficult turned out to be a Dark Souls boss in disguise.
Throughout your run, you’ll probably encounter about 5 or 6 different alien races. As runs are randomized completely, you may get extremely lucky (or unlucky) and get the chance to meet more. It felt to me as if the alien portion of the game was included to break up the monotony of resource gathering and management, however it was still one of the gameplays positive points as it did add something worth while to do in between planet hopping.
Gameplay can feel very repetitive too. With the lack of an in depth combat system, and basic resource management mechanism, the whole game just felt like a grind. I found it very hard to play the game for longer than 2-3 hours at a time, and it never really gripped me like other titles have in the past.
The Long Journey Home’s gameplay is going to be a bit like marmite. You’ll either love it or hate it. As the gameplay is grossly slow paced, anyone with little to no patience will indeed struggle to find as much enjoyment out of the game as others that do.I will applaud the developers for creating a hugely realistic gravity physics engine though. If used in conjunction with a much better control scheme it would have been a welcome addition, but it this realistic gravity sucked any enjoyment out of using the space ship. It probably didn’t help that you can’t rebind and of your keys which is just mind boggling in this day and age. I unfortunately fell into the category of not having a ton of fun, not only because of the slow pace, but because of the game’s biggest problem, the controls..
You’d think that a developer which has built it's reputation and back catalog of games on POINT and CLICK style games, that this release would work just as well using keyboard and mouse. Sadly it isn’t. I am never a fan of PC games which are built to be played with a controller in mind, but The Long Journey Home needs just that before it’s even remotely playable. The controls when trying to move your ship into orbit or land it safely on a planet felt extremely foreign on a keyboard. It’s easy to see how this crew ended up a bazillion trillion miles away from their destination if their space ship handles like this! I found myself trying to land on a planet and widely overshooting the mark and crashing upside down on the surface with a pretty heft headache on my hands. It takes a ton of trial and error before you get the hang of landing and taking off, and even then you need a bit of luck too.
At this point in time I can’t really recommend The Long Journey Home. The game’s control system is fundamentally broken and I think it would take too much work from the developers to patch this in. I personally think it would be a worthwhile investment as it would seriously make the game much more playable and enjoyable. My other main gripe is the repetitive gameplay, unless you like grindy type games, then The Long Journey is probably an easy one to skip. Especially for the very high price point.